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Questions I Hope the State Board of Education Will Ask

February 28, 2013

Today’s State Board of Education meeting should be interesting. Right off the bat, during the superintendent’s report, the agenda calls for “Discussion [of] the A-F Report Card examination study conducted by the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy and The Center for Educational Research and Evaluation.” That’s a nearly-grammatical mouthful, which is why I usually just refer to it as the OU/OSU Report.

Expect these lines of defense to be pushed forward, maybe by board members rather than Superintendent Barresi herself:

  1. The study was commissioned by CCOSA and OSSBA, which represent administrators and school board members; of course it’s negative.
  2. Other researchers have found our accountability process to be a model for other states.
  3. We’ve spent a year listening to the input of critics and adjusting the rules accordingly; they’re just never going to be satisfied.
  4. This really comes down to districts not wanting to do their jobs or using poverty as an excuse for poor performance.
  5. The conversations that have begun in communities because of these report cards would not have happened otherwise.

Starting from the beginning, allow me to refute these:

  1. Whoever commissioned the study, it was performed by scholars, who then went to external reviewers out-of-state to validate their findings. What they found was in fact predictable – not because it was an inside job, but because we’ve all been saying the same things for months, just not in such strong, academic language.
  2. The one researcher the SDE and its defenders clings to right now, David N. Figlio of Northwestern (Chicago, not Alva) has praised Oklahoma’s system, even though he previously called Florida’s “unrelated to the school’s contribution to the school’s contribution to student performance” and said that the results contained “inherent randomness.” Oklahoma’s accountability system, in case you haven’t heard, is modeled after Florida’s.
  3. Yes, school people complain a lot. There also is a group of legislators in Barresi’s party who have listened to their constituents and want the A-F Rules thrown out. The revised rules proposed last week are a slap in the face to constructive dialogue. In truth, the people at the SDE writing these rules and running this program are listening to their supporters out-of-state rather than the people they purport to serve.
  4. Even the Oklahoman over the weekend ran a story showing the linkage between poverty and school performance. They also discussed one school that in statistical terms would be considered an outlier. The exception neither proves nor disproves the validity of the accountability process. It should be noted, by the way, that many superintendents of districts with great results also disliked the A-F process.
  5. If anything, the report cards have stopped all conversation. Given an easy-to-understand answer, people tend to ask few questions. There have been plenty of grass roots conversations about the flawed process and product, however.

All that said, I hope today’s conversation is fruitful. If I were an inquisitive board member (and there is at least one), I would ask the following questions:

  • What influence did groups like the Foundation for Educational Excellence have in creating this process?
  • How does the SDE respond to the statistical concerns – no recognizable metric, introduction of grouping error, the threats to validity – discussed in the report?
  • Why did Superintendent Barresi tell a group of parents that the researchers had changed their mind when nothing can be further from the truth?
  • Why do the proposed rule revisions address none of the research concerns?
  • Has the SDE noticed that one of the rule revisions would appear highly-punitive to high-performing schools?
  • What will the SDE do if the legislature in fact follows through with last week’s committee action and throws out the existing rules?
  • If some of the more problematic parts of the A-F rules are tied directly to pieces of the state’s NCLB waiver, will the state work to extricate itself from those regulations?

If today is contentious, it will be because some of these questions are being asked. If it is merely an assault on the SDE’s critics (as I think it might be), that will be interesting in its own right. In any case, check back this evening. I’ll be eager to give you my thoughts on how it goes.

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